Florida Freshman Rep. David Rivera’s Future Plagued by Troubles

Posted October 5, 2011 at 6:07pm

Florida Rep. David Rivera (R) finds himself trapped in a strange political purgatory.

The freshman’s unenviable position includes being under investigation by state — and potentially federal — authorities for alleged finance missteps and alleged shady business dealings, being held at arm’s length by leadership, struggling to raise money and being eyed by ambitious Democrats and Republicans hoping to snap up his seat.

But it doesn’t look like Rivera is going anywhere, and no Republican has stepped forward — yet — with plans to challenge him in a primary. And the ethics cloud has still not resulted in an indictment after more than a year. Rivera also is well-known locally and is keeping up with his constituent responsibilities. Still, Democrats smell blood in the water.

Rivera has been under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the state attorney’s office since October 2010 for “alleged financial improprieties,” according to FDLE spokesman Keith Kameg.

The FDLE refused to provide any other details on the nature of the investigation.

And with reports in the Miami Herald that Rivera is also under investigation by the FBI and the IRS, he has had trouble bringing in the kind of money he might need to fend off a primary opponent. Rivera raised just $35,000 in the second quarter — and $5,000 of that was from his mother. At the end of June, he had $62,000 in cash on hand but had $152,000 in outstanding debts, according to Federal Election Commission records. The Rivera campaign wouldn’t hint at what numbers he’ll report for the third quarter later this month.

From January through the end of June, Rivera does not appear to have picked up a single donation from another Member of Congress.

The IRS had no comment and referred inquiries to the Department of Justice. FBI headquarters referred questions to its Miami field office. A Miami field office spokesman refused to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation, citing standard operating procedure.

The Rivera campaign said in a statement to Roll Call that the Congressman “welcomes any and all public scrutiny from any and all sources, most of which has been unconfirmed speculation, and none of which has interfered with his ability to do his job as a Member of Congress or a candidate for re-election.”

That last clause seems like a stretch, but while his recent fundraising has been lackluster, a senior Republican Congressional aide from South Florida said the specter of indictments hasn’t hampered Rivera’s ability to be out and about with constituents. “He’s been doing his job,” the aide said. “He goes on the radio down here; he’s on TV.”

Rivera has been a political figure in South Florida for some time as a member of the state House from 2002 to 2010.

Rivera also has held events with other Members in recent months, including Democratic Reps. Frederica Wilson (Fla.) and Albio Sires (N.J.) and Florida Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

“Everything is great on the Member-to-Member level,” a Democratic Florida Member’s aide said. “He has long-standing ties with many people in the current Congressional delegation because of their service together in the state Legislature.” Florida won’t finalize the redraw of its Congressional map until 2012, so the borders of Rivera’s district won’t be known for months.

Democrat Luis Garcia, a former fire chief, has already announced a bid against Rivera. In a sign that Democrats see the seat as vulnerable, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) headlined a fundraiser for Garcia last week in Miami.

In a statement to Roll Call, Hoyer said Garcia “is one of the best candidates running across the country, and his candidacy is one of the best opportunities we have to pick up a Republican seat.”

“He would be a real asset to the people of South Florida in the House of Representatives,” Hoyer added.

One other Democrat eyeing the seat is businesswoman Annette Tadeo, who lost to Ros-Lehtinen in 2008.

And some Republicans are already mulling bids for Rivera’s seat. Many, however, are keeping a low profile until the freshman’s future becomes clearer.

Three Republican names that have picked up particular buzz are state Sens. Anitere Flores, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and former state Rep. J.C. Planas. They aren’t talking yet, and it’s unclear if any would mount a primary challenge against Rivera.

Ana Navarro, who worked for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and is seen by political operatives in South Florida as one of the most plugged-in GOP consultants in the region, said she thinks Rivera has good name identification and could get through a primary without spending much money — less than $150,000.

Navarro, who has known Rivera for many years and gave him a $250 donation last quarter, said the idea of a freshman resigning of his own volition was almost unfathomable. She said she had seen no sign that he was even considering such a drastic move. “Anybody who knows David knows that he will fight to the last day and he will have to be taken out of Congress kicking and screaming,” she said.

“A lot of people, particularly donors, are in a wait-and-see mode,” Navarro said. “But so far, there’s been a lot more waiting than seeing.”

Given all of his troubles, it’s not a surprise the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is particularly gleeful in slamming Rivera. A spokesman pointedly noted that Rivera was considered a top candidate by the National Republican Congressional Committee, which supports all incumbents and hasn’t said anything about the freshman’s troubles.

“Once a darling of the GOP and an NRCC ‘Young Gun,’ Congressman Rivera’s multiple investigations have forced him off the island,” DCCC spokesman Adam Hodge said in a statement.

Rivera may be alone, but for now, with no indictments released, the freshman is still a survivor.